In the fall of 2018, I went to Aizpute, Latvia, for an artist residency. I did not know what I would find there or how it would affect me, only that I wanted to expand on my use of walking meditation to explore connection to place and body. Trying to be aware and intentional with each step and each breath, and see what comes. I walk as an explorer aiming to "capture the now", with my camera, as contrary and elusive as that might be from the point of view of meditation, that in itself, has no goal.
This work became "Collecting Karma Through Small Neglects, Three Meditations".
The main thoroughfare rumbles with mighty trucks and cars in a hurry to pass through town as quickly as possible, but for those who walk, there are quiet surprises, the wooded pathway along the river Terba, the wide wooden staircases on the hillsides, apples strewn in piles on the park grass, spigots gushing fresh spring water, storks and their nests perched on disused smokestacks, students laughing, playing soccer, strolling into the indoor gun range or one of ubiquitous Tops mini groceries.
I walk past the old factory and pick up a handful of smooth acorns and put them in my pocket for later. I find the cemetery at the end of wind-swept grassy alley. It is well-kept, although the entrance is obstructed by a large mound of gravelly dirt I must climb over. Around the graves, walking with slow deliberation, I begin composing a poem/story, one of three video meditations that will carry me through the next ten days of work, knowing I'm making assumptions about how it might have been to live here, die here, leave here, imagining I know the nature of the crimes and cruelties committed, the kindnesses extended, and the eternities of hiding and waiting, and knowing I will overlook what I cannot yet understand.
The series is called Collecting Karma Through Small Neglects, Three Meditations:
#1. Expect Nothing
#2. Observe the Dead & the Living"
#3. Make No Assumptions
It was recorded as part of an artist residency in 2018 at
The Interdisciplinary Art Group SERDE, Aizpute, Latvia.
Videos and web-based story were completed in January 2019.
An elderly woman walks steadily towards me, the slow river Tebra winds under an ancient bridge, and above the grassy bank stands the former synagogue, now a renovated theatre, and below, the former mikva, still in ruins. The sun shoots through gray clouds after a cold hard rain washes Atmodas iela.
The view from my window is of the former prison, now shuttered, and the glimpses and scars of decades of economic hardship, cultural neglect, and unbearable memory of those who are gone--all of which I can barely begin to know about. As Julia Kristeva has written, the culture is created through a crime, and I do not need to look too hard to see clues.
A woman jingles a set of keys and unlocks the door of the town's museum, which was closed when I arrived Sunday afternoon, and lets me through to view a small show of vintage black and white photographs. We shuffle along the gallery, studying each picture in silence. Together, we enter a room full of maps and she says in English, "Do you speak Latvian? This is the exhibit on the deportations. The early Stalin period." She is moved to confide a story about her father who was accused of a crime and sent to Siberia as a teenager, but who later returned home.
On streets not far from here, several generations of my ancestors walked, my grandmother and those before her, whose stories I never heard.
In the soil where life comes, I honor the living and the dead.
I was privileged to have a public screening of works-in-progress created at
The Interdisciplinary Art Group SERDE during the Apple Festival, September 15, 2018.
The following by Shunryu Suzuki informs my approach to the meditation process:
"Just open yourself and give up everything. Whatever happens, study closely and see what you find out."
"Atvērt sevi un atmest visu. Neatkarīgi no tā, kas notiek, rūpīgi izlasiet un uzziniet, ko jūs esat iemācījušies."
Showing prints and screening the first video while sampling
pear ciders, cheeses, and herring on dark bread.
Ance and Signe of SERDE come in from the chilly downpour.
Photo by Kati Hyyppä.
My father's family had settled in Kuldiga, Tukums, and other small towns before going to Riga, and eventually to the US.
She gave a strong response to my videos at the Apple Festival. Photo by Kati Hyyppä.
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